The true cost of a cheap website

Its extremely tempting to fall for the “I’ll build a website for you, its easy!” offer from a friend or family member who has successfully put up their own site or hobby online.

Guest post by Urzsula Richards of

Its extremely tempting to fall for the “I’ll build a website for you, its easy!” offer from a friend or family member who has successfully put up their own site or hobby online.

All of a sudden, all of that angst about finally getting your business online melts away and you feel confident that you can put your site into the hands of someone you trust.

And at a fraction of the cost.

How could I suggest that this may not be a good idea?

With the obvious disclaimer that I’m in the website building business, if you are considering having a friend, family member, or even a budget web builder build your website, please read this first.
You will learn what to cover off so that your relationship and your business both remain in tact.


Most budget websites are built using WordPress or other open source platform, and use a pre-built template.

If you’re not familiar with what a template is, think of it as an online version of a display home. The design and structure is already created – you simply choose a style you like, and furnish it yourself.

There is something extremely seductive about looking at the vast array of beautifully crafted templates, and all you have to do is provide your own images and words – voila!

What’s not to like?

Business Needs and Functions

Continuing with the display home analogy, you certainly are an expert when it comes to understanding your family’s needs and lifestyle requirements in choosing a home. You know the kind of home that will suit you best because you have had experience in living in many different homes. You know what you simply must have, what looks good but is never used (a formal dining room?) and the quirky needs and wants of your family.

What has this got to do with using a website template?

You need to ask yourself how experienced are you, or your potential website builder, in knowing about what will work best online for your business.

If you already have an existing website, you most certainly will have had some thoughts about what works and what doesn’t.

If your website builder does not ask you what your business goals are, and is unable to provided you with an articulated plan about how your website will achieve these, seriously think again about who is developing your website!

I confess to spending hours looking at templates to see how to make them work with what is actually best for the client’s business. In 99% of cases, I wished I had started from scratch. A website needs to be based around business goals, not the other way around – business goals fitting into a template structure.

So make sure that the person building your site has the experience in understanding –

  • what works in relation to specific business goals you have
  • what workflows are recommended to help gain new clients online, and how to set this up
  • if using a template, what should be removed if it is distracting to the core business purpose

Remember – a website is not just a pretty picture with social icons. It needs to be the primary workhorse of your online presence, and this can only be created effectively by someone with both business and web development experience.

Too many website templates have social icons and news feeds galore with gibberish as information, or completely outdated (or inane) comments which will do absolutely nothing to establishing a sense of trust or credibility for your business.

Just like with a project home, modifications from a template / design can end up costing more than what it would to have it custom built in the first place.


We also need to address the question of timeliness.

I have had people tell me they are having a family member or friend build their website, only to find that 6, 12, 18 and 24 months later, there is still no website, as they have not found ‘the time’ to do it. Because the project often falls into the semi ‘favour’ and ‘cheap as chips’ category, putting pressure to get it done also causes awkwardness.

Right now, if your business has no online presence, it is harming your business – whether you know it or not (with the rare exception of businesses which have more clients they know what to do with).

Even successful businesses with an abundance of clients are aware that having a professional website presence will help with providing an overall professional image, and converting the word of mouth referrals made to their business.


Every website builder will tell you that the biggest hold up for a website being launched on time, is receiving content. Content, simply put, is the words, images and other media such as YouTubes, downloads etc which you want on your website.

An experienced agency will help you with this, by creating a content creation plan and talking you through options for images, and in particular the words that you need. You will be able to request they help you ‘massage’ the words into shape, so your content comes across with the right marketing tone and message, and place this in the most appropriate place for maximum impact with your audience.

Even if you are a great writer, words for the web, and marketing principles dictate what will work best to achieve the results you want. Don’t let poor choice of words let your beautiful looking website down; words are the primary vehicle you have to engage with new clients in the first instance.


Ok, so no one wants to start a project thinking about this, but you must.

What if you have a falling out?

You can fall out with your website builder too, but at least you will have a contract or some agreement in place, and some measure of ‘distance’ to be able to put into place a dispute resolution process.

Much harder with friends or family. In most cases there will not be any formal agreement or timeline in place, and because you have most likely been promised a huge discount, you don’t have a firm footing to stand on if things go pear-shaped.

If you have chosen a cheap as chips website builder, you are not as likely to have their responsiveness to any mis-match of expectations about what has been agreed to – there is only so much (poorly paid) time they have budgeted to provide you with the website.

Platform Choice (the software used to build your website)

Anyone who is offering you a cheap website is most likely using WordPress.

They will argue that you can choose a template easily, and then add your content, and for all intents and purposes it will look and work just great.

But ask them – how many WordPress sites have they themselves managed other than their own?

In my experience, and I have worked with dozens of WordPress sites, while the initial set up of a basic templated site is simple, this is just the start of ongoing updates both to the platform itself, and to any plugins used, of which there are usually a minimum of 5 even for the even most basic sites.

And if the site has some complex functionality or integrations, this simply gets harder.

It is not at all uncommon for an update to break some existing functionality or for it to be no longer supported by the person who created it.

Then there are security patches which need to be applied regularly, occasional updates which occur on the server your site is hosted with which may or may not require upgrades to database versions, and ….. I could go on, but I can see your eyes glazing over.

So are mine. My point is –

Unless the person who is building your site is also experienced in maintaining it, or you genuinely have an interest and a knack for learning how to do the required maintenance yourself, it may not be long before you run into trouble. Read this if you are a fan of disaster stories.

In my personal experience with websites which I have built or maintained, the only sites which have been hacked have been Open Sources sites such as WordPress or Joomla with a cheap hosting package (you do get what you pay for).

Of course any site can be hacked with the right skill and effort, but I am just relating my own personal experience of developing and maintaining well over a hundred sites on a wide range of platforms.

Maintenance and Updates

One reason I have moved away from building websites using Open Source platforms is the ongoing work required to simply maintain what has been built. This is often not factored at all into the business owner’s expectation of what they may need to pay for.

Instead, I now build all my websites on a platform which never requires me to apply updates and plugins because all functions and security updates are automatically updated, and even improved on without me having to even think about it.

I can focus purely on helping business owners get new customers online, and teaching them about online marketing – not urgent security patches, and other unpredictable work just to keep what is there working.

This ensures that any additional spending by the business owner goes towards new development and additional functionality (not simply maintaining the status quo).

So make sure that you ask about what maintenance and updates are included with the development and hosting.

  • will these be regularly checked on and security updates, plugin updates, and software upgrades applied as required
  • what parts of the website will you be able to update yourself?
  • will you be trained in how to do this?
  • how quickly will updates and changes you can’t do yourself be completed?

The number one frustration I hear from people about their support is speed of response. Your website is a living breathing marketing machine, and you cannot be waiting for someone to get around to updating vital information on it, or fixing a security patch which is leaving your website and data vulnerable.

Industry Experience

Does your website builder have enough experience to know what is best practice in this fast paced environment?

Ask them-
  • how is your website being optimised so google will find it
  • how will your website look in different browsers and across different devices, and screen sizes?
  • how will they keep you up-to-date with developments in your particular line of business which you need to be made aware of?
I frequently have clients asking me about making particular changes to their website, and in most cases, I am able to refine their original request to something which will work better, based on my experience with other sites. In other cases, something they have read is either a short lived fad or simply wrong, and I am able to explain this and dissuade them from spending time and money on something which is unlikely to produce any benefit.
You need to have this kind of go-to relationship with your website custodian.

Return on Investment

In the end, this is where the rubber meets the road.

If you are going to have an online presence, make sure it is worth the effort.

Value is not about how much you pay, but getting the business results you need, including that you get more back in return than what you invest.

A good developer, will be able to work within your budget – and provide a phased approach to development if you can’t have everything you want right now.  

With a road map for where you are heading, this ‘future planning’ will also make sure that additions and expansion is planned for from the beginning and ready to deploy as soon as you are ready.

A final word (actually two)

If your son/daughter/friend/loved one IS a website developer full time, some of what I have said is not quite as relevant, but do take heed of the pitfalls so you can mitigate them.

And it should go without saying, that whether it is someone you know or not, the questions posed here about the important ingredients in having a website built which achieves your business goals will always apply.

To learn more about Urzsula and onlineiq please follow the link.